Gaylene’s Maximalist Indoor Garden

It’s 9am on a Sunday morning and my jaw is resting on the floor of Gaylene Krajewski’s tiny central Melbourne apartment. The rest of me sits on an antique chaise longue looking out over the wonder that is Gaylene’s living room. She calls it a 3D jigsaw and I’m not sure there’s a better way to describe it.

“I’m a maximalist,” she tells me. There’s no doubting this. Gaylene is also a collector. Somehow she’s managed to fit 63 plants, a series of ceramic kitchenware collections, record collections, vintage ephemera and more into just 70 square meters. And, there’s not a speck of dust to be found! It’s the tiniest, fullest, cleanest space I think I’ve ever seen.

Gaylene has been a woman of plants since she could walk. She had no alternative, really. “I grew up in the workroom of my mother’s flower shop in Ulverstone, Tasmania,” she tells me. Every day after school and throughout her school holidays Gaylene helped her mother in her shop. Becoming a florist after finishing high school was a no brainer. She already was one.

She headed to Melbourne when she was 18 and worked as a nanny for six years. When her mother died Gaylene returned to Ulverstone and floristry, starting her own flower shop when she was 26. But then love called. Johnny, her now husband, wrote her a letter declaring his true feelings and she packed up the shop and was back in Melbourne within six months. “I’d known Johnny since I was 20. I secretly loved him and he secretly loved me but we never told each other. Then, one day I got a letter from him…” The rest is history. They got married, and being a proper flower lover, the wedding date was organised around the flowering season of Gaylene’s favourite bloom – violets. Gaylene wore a purple velvet dress, a violet encrusted beret and carried a bouquet of (yep, you guessed it) violets.

“I’ve never consciously thought ‘oh, I want to be a florist’, it’s almost like it’s my birthright. I guess it’s just who I am,” Gaylene tells me as we explore her space. She’s not just a florist, but a great one – having worked with Flowers Vasette for many years, and also with Wona Bae at Loose Leaf. The plants in her home are a natural extension of her floral beginnings. “When we moved here 10 years ago I only had one plant, a spathyphyllum (peace lily), and I didn’t even like him,” she says. “He’s over there in the corner, I couldn’t throw him away.”

From her solo sad peace lily, Gaylene’s collection grew and grew. “I just started buying a few plants and then a few more,” she tells me. “And then my 90-year-old Aunty Irene started giving me cuttings.  Suddenly I had 63 plants!” Irene is responsible for the begonias, the donkeys tails (Sedum morganianum), coleus, African violets and much more. “Each plant has a story or some sort of meaning,” Gaylene says.

Now to the big question. How do you fit it all in, I ask? “It’s like a three dimensional jigsaw,” Gaylene tells me.

If I get something new, it takes me ages to figure out how it’s going to fit in. I often lay on the bed and just stare out there and figure out how I’m going to make it work.”

My second biggest question is about dirt! What about re-potting, transplanting, dividing – all those plant nurturing jobs best done outdoors? Gaylene’s got it sorted. “This whole area becomes a garden,” she says with a laugh, indicating nearly all of the living room with her expansive arm movements. “I say to Johnny, ‘You can’t walk this way, I’m doing my gardening.’ From the fruit bowl to the end of the table is the garden zone until I’ve cleaned it up later.” She tells me she’s got heaps of pots and potting mix, all the gardening stuff, but won’t show! It’s all tucked away somewhere very neatly. Of course.

Gaylene’s plants are some of the happiest I’ve seen growing indoors. As you may expect of a woman like her, there’s a structure to their care routine. “Sundays is my watering day. I have a proper look at each plant, cut any dead leaves, check whether they’ve got water in the saucer and give them a big drink if they need it.” The happiest plant, according to Gaylene, is the fiddle leaf fig (Ficus lyrata). Her secret? “Every morning we pour a half glass of water on the fig. It gets a little bit of water all the time. Unless there’s some in the saucer, then we don’t add any.”

Given Gaylene’s love of plants, and fluorescent green thumb, I reckon she’d go wild if she had a garden outdoors. She agrees. She’d like a garden, she tells me, and there’s a little place in northern Victoria with the perfect name – Violet Town. “I’ve never even been there but I’ve decided that’s where we need to go!” I can’t even imagine letting Gaylene loose on a large suburban lot. I ask her what she’d do if she had more room. “Oh, I’d fill it,” she says. Of course she would. She’s a maximalist at heart.